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Sparking Intergenerational Relationships

September 8, 2021

The Christian Reformed Church’s Faith Formation Ministries, in conjunction with the Reformed Church in America’s Next Generation Engagement team, are looking for 10 CRC congregations and 10 RCA congregations to help launch Generation Spark as a shared ministry for the denominations.

Started as an experiment at Hope College’s Center for Leadership, Generation Spark plans to launch this fall. With funding from Lilly Endowment Inc., Generation Spark encourages congregations, who are seeking to help youth and emerging adults become more deeply engaged in the life of the church, to join the initiative.

“We want to listen to the voices of every generation, as we will be shaped for ministries together,” said Ron deVries, youth catalyzer for Faith Formation Ministries, citing one of the four goals of the CRC’s Our Journey 2025 ministry plan.

“Jesus cared for the little children. He took them on his knees and blessed them,” added deVries. “We want to be ministering alongside God’s children.”

Chris Schoon, director of Faith Formation Ministries, continued, “We hope that by 2025 all of our congregations will be a place where every member is valued as part of the community.”

Seeking to stir the imaginations and spirituality of young people, Generation Spark began several years ago as a pilot project with six churches. It was spearheaded by four college students and two Hope College staff members. It will now be overseen by the CRCNA and RCA.

“We want our churches to be places in which the wisdom and enthusiasm of each generation is heard and where young people’s wisdom and leadership skills are used and valued,” said deVries.

One person, speaking about Generation Spark, says participation in it made the person feel more accepted at church.

“Hearing my mentor say ‘It’s great to see you’ on Sunday mornings creates intergenerational bonds and a sense of community,” the person said.

“Forced conversations and awkward icebreakers are replaced by the gentle mentoring and guidance the program fosters through relationships.”

A key component of Generation Spark is to help youth and emerging adults identify a problem or opportunity in their church — either a CRCNA or RCA congregation — or to look beyond their church to, in either instance, find a challenge they would like to learn about and respond to.

Another important aspect of the initiative is that it offers approaches helping to establish a connection between older adults to serve as mentors to young people.

“This work is so important to us that, as two denominations, we’re coming together and moving forward from working with one group to building an interdenominational program,” said Ruth Langkamp, a program specialist for the RCA.

There is not only one solution or program to understanding the needs of young adults, said Langkamp.

“But we have to start listening to younger people . . . and invite young people into a safe space — to help them feel welcomed and that they belong in our church.”

Important questions that young adults ask — What is my identity? What is my purpose? Where do I belong? — are at the foundation of Generation Spark’s work.

“These are the big questions of every teen and young adult,” said Schoon.

To help address these questions, Generation Spark, he added, assesses, trains, implements, and evaluates how the program is working in churches that sign on. Generation Spark is free for those willing to take part in the next round of sessions.

Schoon said that in the past the CRCNA faced many long-term challenges, meaning you had time to deal with them down the road, but right now all challenges seem to be immediate, meaning you have to adapt to them quickly. This is a time, he said,  that keeps calling for change in many areas of church life.

“We anticipate that Generation Spark participants will engage with the full life and ministry of the local congregation,” he said.

“As such, we are excited for the anticipated opportunities this will bring to work more closely with other CRCNA ministries and agencies in serving our congregations.”

The deadline to sign up for Generation Spark has been extended to Wednesday, Sept. 22.